Team Manitoba had 207 athletes to choose from to select a flagbearer for the opening ceremonies of the 2023 Canada Winter Games which begin Saturday, February 18 in Charlottetown, PEI. Included in that group were 19 returnees from the ’19 Games in Red Deer.
In the end, the honour was bestowed on Winnipeg long-track speed skater Sofia Bieber.
The 17 year old phenom from River Heights wasn’t able to attend Tuesday’s announcement and Team Manitoba launch at the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. She is preparing to compete at the World Junior Speed Skating Championships which begin Friday at Inzell, Germany.
“I’m so honoured to represent Manitoba as the flagbearer for the 2023 Canada Winter Games. When I first heard, I was like ‘wow, they picked me?'”, said Bieber in a Sport Manitoba News Release. “The Canada Games are different than any other competition. We’re representing our province together as a team, more than just ourselves. This is our moment.”
Team chef de mission Drew Todd said there were a number of qualified candidates to choose from, but Bieber’s application jumped off the page.
“She just recently won Nationals within the last month. Two times on the Junior National team. She’s a medal threat,” said Todd listing off some of the accomplishments that tipped the scales in Bieber’s favour. “But when we had the chance to meet her, it really sealed the deal. She’s so humble, she’s so accommodating, just so positive as an athlete. I think that’s who we want to represent us as a province.”
Todd will head up a mission staff of 22, while there will also be 68 coaches, managers, and technical support staff making up the contingent for the 16-day event, which will feature competition in 20 different sports before concluding on Sunday, March 5.
Bieber will be joined by 16-year-old sister Rebecca in one of eight instances of Manitoba siblings competing in the ’23 CWG’s. Winnipeggers Erik and Ryan Kulbacki are also part of the Speed Skating team, while two sets of twins will proudly represent their home province: Mae and Evan Fulton of Birtle in freestyle skiing, and Anne and Emily Hargraves of Winnipeg on the squash court.
Manitoba Athletes range in age from 11 year old figure skater Jorja Best of Carman to 25 year old cross country skier Levi Nadlersmith of Boissevain.
Recently appointed provincial minister of Sports, Culture, and Heritage, Obby Khan, will have the chance to experience Charlottetown for the first time.
“This is my first announcement as minister of Sports, Culture and Heritage and I couldn’t have picked a better one. This is the exact reason why I’m here today. You know, growing up playing sports, representing the province, making those friendships, learning those lessons, have got me to where I am today,” said the former CFLer and current Fort Whyte MLA. “So when I look in the crowd, I literally just see me. I just see younger versions of aspiring athletes. It’s such a great day for them. The trip is going to be awesome.”
Khan says he hopes to have the opportunity to connect with many, if not all of the nearly 300 members of the Manitoba contingent during the Games. But also sees this event as an opportunity to broaden his own horizons as a Sports Minister.
“I’m also going to be looking forward to meeting with Ministers as well, across Canada, to understand that in this ministerial position now and how we can improve sports across Canada, but here in Manitoba as well,” said Khan who is also a restaurant owner and can’t wait to dig into some PEI seafood.